The Lie of the Year: Exaggerations about Ebola

Falsehoods about Ebola are PolitiFact's 2014 Lie of the Year. (Reuters)
Falsehoods about Ebola are PolitiFact's 2014 Lie of the Year. (Reuters)

There were two Ebola-related fatalities in the United States this year. More Americans -- at least nine, and likely many more -- have died from the flu over the past few months.

Yet this fall, fear of the disease stretched to every corner of America, stoked by exaggerated claims from politicians and pundits. They said Ebola was easy to catch, that illegal immigrants may be carrying the virus across the southern border, that it was all part of a government or corporate conspiracy.

The claims -- all wrong -- distorted the debate about a serious public health issue. Together, they earn PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year for 2014.

For the past six years, PolitiFact editors have chosen the Lie of the Year based, in part, on how broadly a myth or falsehood infiltrates conventional thinking. In 2013, it was the promise made by President Barack Obama and other Democrats that "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it." While no singular line about Ebola matched last year’s empty rhetoric about health care, the statements together produced a dangerous and incorrect narrative.

PolitiFact and PunditFact rated 16 separate claims about Ebola as Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire on our Truth-O-Meter in 2014. Ten of those claims came in October, as Thomas Eric Duncan’s case came to the fore and as voters went to the polls to select a new Congress.

"Americans spent March through July thinking that the outbreak was no threat at all, then from August to October, it was the apocalypse," said Stephen Gire, a researcher who has been to West Africa and is studying the Ebola genome at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. "And now in December, a year after the first case of Ebola infected a young Guinean, Americans are complaining that it was all ‘overhyped.’ "

For a closer look at the Ebola scare and why it has been named PolitiFact’s 2014 Lie of the Year, read the full story here.